This poem was inspired by a Van Gogh self-portrait. I’ve always found looking at paintings a great source of inspiration for writing poems. I’ll post a few more poems from paintings in weeks to come, including some based on work by the only painter I’ve ever known, Jocelyn Merivale.
Jocelyn died a year ago, far too young, but she made a big impression on me. As well as being a great artist and a fabulous host, she was also a teacher, and one night she gave me some significant advice on writing for teenagers. Not too dark, she told me, there has to be hope.
A message she embodied throughout her generous and inspirational life.
She was also a big fan of Van Gogh.
His face is alive with stitching,
and all the colours under the sun.
Like a wheat field scored by a gusting wind,
or a closing pride of unseen predators.
And from somewhere in the field â€“
white and green.
The face a ginger cat-monsterâ€™s face,
a knitting of beauty and beast.
The stitched lips unable to utter
something in the mind made true.
And leaping from the apparitionâ€™s glare â€“
grey and blue.
Or the face that of a crash victim,
weak flesh mended by a Frankenstein â€“
the blood still congealed,
the beard red, from the knifeâ€™s touch.
And somewhere on the ear, near the top â€“
a little more red.
From his face heâ€™s made his own straw doll,
set it in motion on the canvas
with a thousand frenzied strokes.
So now itâ€™s alive, alive with stitches,
a witchâ€™s doll, and heâ€™s pierced it
with those smooth, colourless eyes.
Self Portrait first appeared in Staple no.48